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Tiny Taiwan Stretches Up for Tallest Building Designation

Taipei 101 would be world's highest skyscraper and, many hope, symbol of respect.

August 08, 2004|Stephan Grauwels | Associated Press Writer

TAIPEI, Taiwan — Some liken it to a giant bamboo shoot of glass and steel. The less charitable see an outsize stack of Chinese food containers.

At 101 floors, Taipei's newest skyscraper is the world's tallest and an ego boost for a people who feel snubbed by the world.

Reaching 1,679 feet into the sky, the Taipei 101 building is 188 feet taller than the previous record-holder, the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The highest free-standing tower is still Toronto's 1,800-foot CN Tower, but Taipei 101 claims a hat trick for having the highest structural top, tallest roof and the highest occupied floor.

It also boasts the fastest elevators in the world, reaching speeds of 38 mph.

And it spells respect -- or so the Taiwanese hope.

Although it is the world's first all-Chinese democracy, and one of the biggest suppliers of laptops and computer chips, Taiwan can't even call itself a country. China, its giant neighbor, regards it as a breakaway province, the product of an unfinished civil war, and most of the world, including the United States, refuses to recognize it or admit it to the United Nations.

"Taiwanese people are proud of their economic achievements and hope that having the highest skyscraper in the world will make the world sit up and notice this island," said Richard Lee, an independent architect not involved with the project.

Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian recently echoed the sentiment.

"Taipei 101 is not only the tallest building in the world, it also symbolizes that Taiwan is in step with the world," he said.

Still, the building has an image problem: It stands on an island in a typhoon and earthquake belt. A quake in central Taiwan in 1999 killed more than 2,300 people. So a huge 733-ton ball near the top of the building moves about to counter strong winds and seismic vibrations.

In its base, a seven-story mall is packed with designer boutiques, gourmet restaurants and a giant screen showing fashion parades. It also has the capital's largest English-language bookstore and hopes to claim another record -- for the world's highest hotel.

Cathy Yang, an executive with Taipei Financial Center Corp., which manages the building, says negotiations are still under way with an international hotel group.

How long these records will stand is another question. East Asia has been in a virtual race to translate its economic power into ever higher skyscrapers, and Taipei 101 is likely to be eclipsed in this decade by a competitor in Manhattan -- the 1,776-foot Freedom Tower replacing the World Trade Center demolished by terrorists Sept. 11, 2001.

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